About mid-day, the crew packed up and we headed toward the mountains. We were going to get a shot of Roberto gazing down at a spectacular view of Bogotá. I was riding with Carlos in his car, when a few fat raindrops plopped down on the windshield. Moments later, a ferocious rain began to pummel the car. What had happened to our sunny day?
Carlos said the good news was that when it rained this hard it wouldn’t last more than fifteen or twenty minutes but he was wrong. It kept coming, and the sky flashed with light, and thunder rumbled over the city. Hailstones rattled off the hood of the car, littered the street and sidewalks. Pedestrians ran madly through the rain for cover as though under attack by strafing fighter planes. People and dogs huddled in doorways. The always horrible traffic became even horribler. Carlos tried to take another route to our location but it was no better. Rivers of rain gushed down the steep streets. Nervousness began to gnaw at my gut the way it had most of the day yesterday as I worried that we would run out of time.
Carlos said we would have to forget about getting the shot in the mountains, but that Roberto’s apartment had a great view of the city and we could do the shot there. He said we would meet up with the crew somewhere for lunch and hope the storm would have subsided by the time we were done.
We drove through the gray rain to a big gray building, and found the crew already eating in a vast food court. Glumly and without appetite, I ate my eggplant lasagna. Everything had been going fine till I had walked off wearing the basuquero’s bracelet. I looked at it, thought about taking if off. But it was ridiculous to think a skinny kid with some colored strings could control the weather.
We finished lunch and left the building and found hailstones melting on the sidewalks and a gray but rainless sky. We still had two locations to go to. I wanted to shoot in the park near my hotel. It was in the upscale northern part of Bogotá, and all the joggers and dog walkers and attractive women in their stylish clothes would provide a nice contrast to the grunginess and homeless people we’d filmed downtown. Then after the park, we’d finish at the apartment. But we were running behind because of the storm, and since the apartment had a couple of scenes we had to do, we decided to go straight there.
And everything went smoothly. No creepy curse of the basuquero seemed to be in evidence. We got the scenes of Iván Lopez as Roberto receiving the death threat over his phone and then hastily packing to get out of town one step ahead of his executioners, and then, as the long day drew to a close, the setting sun appeared through a scrim of clouds and shed a lovely light over the city as Roberto stood at his window taking it all in; the shot was almost certainly better than what we would have got in the mountains.
It had been a difficult two days, but we were finished! Carlos and I were elated. We had gotten everything we wanted except the stuff in the park, which would have been nice to have, but I could live without it.
I went outside. Night had fallen on Bogotá. The crew was packing up the van. I stood at the top of a driveway that sloped to the street, and called Stefani in California; I was using Carlos’s cellphone since mine was on the fritz. I had been keeping Stef abreast of the vicissitudes of the trip, and she was glad to hear we were done with the shoot and it had turned out well.
Do you remember The Omen? Gregory Peck’s son is the Anti-Christ, and seemingly random, horrible accidents happen to anybody who gets in his way. What happened next kind of reminded me of that. There was a white case about three feet tall sitting at the top of the driveway to my left. I think it belonged to the hair and make-up or the art department. It had been left there unattended. It was on wheels. Now, out of the corner of my eye, I saw it moving forward.
I turned my head. The case was rolling down the driveway, picking up speed. The van was at the bottom of the driveway, maybe twenty feet away. I took off after the case, determined to catch it before it hit the van (not that anything very terrible would have happened if it had; it’s not like it was carrying nitroglycerin or something). I caught up with the case and grabbed it with my left hand. I tried to put the brakes on so I wouldn’t slam into the van myself, but it’s tricky to run downhill, easy to lose control, and from that point on, it was like when I fell in the river; I know I did it, but I’m just not sure about the mechanics of it.
I found myself going to the left, and maybe I stumbled over that accursed case, I don’t know, but at any rate there was a sickening second of losing contact with the ground, of being airborne. I let go of Carlos’s phone and it sailed ahead of me. I landed near the back of the van half on the curb and half on the street, my left knee and elbow and my right outstretched hand bearing the brunt of the impact.
It must have looked pretty bad, judging by everyone’s reaction. Crew members crowded around me, helping me to my feet. “What you did, it was crazy!” said the hair and make-up person, whose case it may or may not have been. I brushed myself off, telling everyone I was fine.
With Helkin Rene Diaz at the hotel in Tobia.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” said Helkin wonderingly. “Your face, when you were falling…” He didn’t complete the sentence, but I assumed he meant it had born a look of wide-eyed horror. I assured him I wasn’t hurt. And then Helkin smiled. “So Tom, you fell again. That means someday you will own this apartment building.”
Someone handed me Carlos’s phone, and then I remembered I still had my wife on the line. “What the hell happened?” she wanted to know, and I told her but insisted I was fine. But I wasn’t quite being honest with everyone. When I fell in the river nothing was hurt except my dignity, but the spill I took in Bogotá was quite painful. My left arm and leg were abraided and bruised, and my right wrist was throbbing with pain.
I went to a Lebanese restaurant for dinner with Carlos and Mariela and Helkin. We were all happy and ate hummus and baba ghanoush and drank celebratory wine. Helkin was excited about a documentary he had recently shot called A River Below. It was about the imperiled (by us, of course) pink dolphins of the Amazon, and it had been a big success at film festivals. It was getting some Oscar buzz, and Helkin said that if it got an Academy nomination he was thinking about moving to L.A. and giving American movies a go. Helkin in Hollywood, that’s a documentary that I’d like to see.
We left the restaurant and walked toward my hotel, which was just a few blocks away. It was Friday night and Bogotá was jumping. Hundreds of young people were hanging out in parking lots listening to loud music and openly drinking, which is legal in Colombia. Suddenly Helkin grabbed my arm. Just ahead of me in the sidewalk was a dark circular hole missing its manhole cover. Helkin steered me around it, saying that if I stayed much longer I would wind up owning most of the country.
My wrist had continued hurting during dinner, and when I got up to my hotel room I took a good look at it. It was beginning to swell a little. The swelling was happening directly underneath the blue and red and gold strings of the bracelet the basuqero had put there. And then I remembered how weird it was when the white case began to move. Almost like an invisible hand had pushed it. Maybe the basuquero had cursed me after all! I fumbled at the bracelet, trying to undo the knots, then ripped it off my wrist and threw it in a trash basket. I hoped my wrist wasn’t broken. I was just lucky the basuquero had tied a bracelet around my wrist and not a necklace around my neck.
So I returned the next day to the cozy confines of Culver City, to my wife and dog and cats, and the squirrels playing in the dappled light in the tree outside the window. Carlos is in Bogotá, editing the trailer, and he says it’s looking good. He says we finished shooting just in time because it’s been raining constantly and torrentially ever since I left. He also told me his cellphone had quit working a couple of days after it and I crashed to the street, so I’ve had to add $700 to the production budget to replace it.
And I’ve seen Helkin’s movie, which conveniently opened at a theater in Beverly Hills just a week after I got back. I thought it was beautiful, disturbing, morally complex, and photographed wonderfully.
My wrist is sprained, not broken. I’m wearing a black brace on it, and it’s gradually getting better. Do I think I hurt it because I was cursed by a basuquero? No. Of course not. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think the basuquero was involved somehow. I believe we live in a universe of meaning, we are usually not aware of it for the same reason a fish isn’t aware it lives in a world of water, water or meaning is all there is. I believe there was meaning in the chain of events that began when I had a brief encounter with a lost young man named Luis, and then literally turned my back on him and walked away. That day, it was meant for me to learn something. Be humble. Listen. Be curious. Be kind. That’s what the basuquero and his bracelet taught me.